Too many children are falling behind in maths before they even start school, experts have warned.
More than one in four youngsters fail to achieve the level expected of them in the subject at the age of five, according to a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for maths and numeracy.
The study argues that too many pre-schools and nurseries are not providing young children with a good start to their maths education.
It calls for a better trained and qualified workforce and more focus on the vital subject in the early years.
Under the current system, maths is included in the early years curriculum for England - with youngsters expected to learn basic ideas, such as counting to 20, simple adding and subtracting and solving simple problems with shapes and measurements.
Maths is also included in the equivalent curricula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the report says.
But it warns that even though the subject is included in early years education, more needs to be done to raise the profile of maths and encourage the development of mathematical thinking in young children.
Official statistics show that in 2013/14, 28% of children in England failed to achieve the expected level in maths at the end of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), the report says, adding research has shown that once youngsters fall behind in the subject, they continue to do so throughout school.
The study goes on to warn that the quality of maths learning in early years education varies significantly, and this often depends on the qualifications and attitudes of staff.
"Many working with under-5s are mathematically under-qualified and unconfident, with no qualification higher than Level 2 - roughly equivalent to a GCSE A*-C pass," it says.
"Many also have a negative outlook on maths as a result of their own school experiences.
"Most of the experts agreed that providing better training in early years maths development is essential to start improving children's understanding of maths at a young age. Making maths GCSE a requirement for new entrants to the profession will not improve the skills and knowledge of the existing workforce."
Alongside a better trained workforce, the report calls for more support for parents and a national drive to raise awareness of the importance of maths in the early years.
The report was drawn up by a number of early years and maths education specialists who were brought together by the APPG to look at the issue.
National numeracy chief executive, Mike Ellicock said: "We really do need a drive to create more positive attitudes to maths so that early years staff - and parents - pass on the right messages.
"If children don't start to develop mathematical confidence and skills at an early age, we know they are unlikely to catch up later."
Caroline Dinenage MP, co-chair of the APPG, said: "Far too many young children in this country struggle with maths and numeracy. This leaves them playing a game of catch up for the rest of their lives; a game most of them end up losing.
"As this report sets out we need a greater focus on maths and numeracy in the early years. If we can provide children with a good grounding at a young age then we will set them up to succeed in their later studies and their future careers."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Statistics released last week showed a large increase in young children achieving a good level of development, up eight percentage points cent from last year. 6% more children achieved a good level of development in mathematics.
"The early years of a child's life influence how well they do at school and beyond. It provides the framework for them to develop academically - including in mathematics.
"Our plan for education includes providing more flexible, affordable and good quality childcare. A record amount of money now goes to support the youngest children and more families than ever before are eligible for free childcare."